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Late game surge against Benilde keeps Letran atop standings

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The Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights started slow in their tilt against the College of Saint Benilde Blazers. The Knights needed a late surge to stave-off the officially eliminated Blazers, 79-69, Thursday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Arena in San Juan City.

The usual Letran defense was displayed by the Knights to start the game as they had an 8-0 surge within minutes including some early five markers from Kevin Racal. After being scoreless after three minutes, Carlo Young nailed a three-ball to start the Blazers’ surge in the middle of the first quarter. St. Benilde built a 13-0 run including strong layups from Jonathan Grey. Meanwhile, Letran was limited to only two field goals in the last stretch of the opening frame and CSB’s JJ Domingo caught fire as he scored the last seven points of his team to give the Blazers a nine point edge after ten minutes of play.

A good exchange of shootout between the two squads was seen at the first part of the second quarter as the full court pressure defense enabled Letran to chip into the lead for a moment. At the last three minutes of the quarter, the Knights sizzled from their three-point sniping as their last four of the last five field goals were all from downtown. CSB was able to trade some points but the hot shooting gave Cruz an and-one play from a pull up jumper at the last moments of the first half as the Knights snatched the lead, 40-38.

The game was stopped at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter due to technical difficulties to the court. At that point, the Blazers held a 45-44 lead as shots from the perimeter were starting to fall for them as well. After the stoppage, no momentum of any sorts was snapped for both teams as they were still firing from anywhere in the floor. Fortunately for the Blazers, an aggressive CSB team suddenly pulled away for a bit in the dying minutes of the third with a 55-48 edge with their driving game on point. On the other end, Letran’s three pointers went wide but three straight buckets in the paint sliced CSB’s lead to two.

Long range bombs by Domingo and Travis Jonson gave Benilde a 62-56 lead to open the final quarter. With the cagers from Taft closing in on an upset win, the Knights turned on the pedal on defense to turn the tides of the game. The veteran quintet of Racal, Cruz, Nambatac, and Luib pressed hard that resulted to clogged passing lanes and contested shots for their opponents. On offense, the pro-bound Racal ran hard on offense while long pull-up jumpers by Cruz and Nambatac gave the league leaders a blitzing 16-5 rally to close the game. The Knights took home its eleventh win of the season, 79-69.

“Hirap na manalo ngayon,” Letran coach Aldin Ayo quipped after the game. “We were good on offense but the defense wasn’t there,” was his assessment of the game. “Good thing nung fourth quarter nakarecover ang mga bata sa depensa.”

Mark Cruz continued his streak of scoring 20+ points in leading the Knights with 20 points on 50% shooting. Cruz had three triples and four assists. McJour Luib also set a career-high with 16 points while adding two boards, two assists, and four steals. Smart Elite ambassador Rey Nambatac continued to struggle from the field in shooting just 1/6 from the field for five points.

For the Blazers, the hot-shooting duo of JJ Domingo and Jonathan Grey combined for 28 points, scoring 14 points each. Grey added three boards, five assists, and three steals in his line but committed six turnovers.

The Letran Knights (11-2) will start the rigorous part of their schedule as they face the Mapua Cardinals on Tuesday, September 15 at 2:00 pm while the Benilde Blazers (3-10) face the JRU Heavy Bombers on the same day at 4:00pm.

The Scores:

CSJL (79) – Cruz 20, Racal 18, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 9, Nambatac 5, Apreku 2, Calvo 0, Balagasay 0

CSB (69) – Domingo JJ 14, Grey 14, Ongteco 12, Saavedra 10, Nayve 6, Domingo JS 5, Jonson 3, Young 3, Fajarito 2, Deles 0, Sta. Maria 0, Castor 0

Quarters: 13-22, 40-38, 54-56, 79-69

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